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sleep-benefits1We all know the utter joy of emerging refreshed after a good night’s sleep, but too often the importance of sleep is lost to the seeming necessities of the fast-paced modern world.

When you are scrambling to meet all the demands of home, work and otherwise, cutting back on sleep may seem like the only choice — but the truth is, you cannot afford to skip sleep.

Just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimal health and happiness, so is sleep. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight.

No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!

Are you sleep deprived?

Maybe it feels normal to get sleepy when you’re in a boring meeting, struggling through the afternoon slump, or dozing off after dinner, but the truth is that it’s only “normal” if you are sleep deprived.

Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include night shift workers, physicians, truck drivers, parents and teenagers.

But anyone — and almost everyone — can be sleep deprived, and not even be aware of it.

You may be sleep deprived if you…

  • sleep1Need an alarm clock in order to wake up on time
  • Rely on the snooze button
  • Have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning
  • Feel sluggish in the afternoon
  • Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms
  • Get drowsy after heavy meals or when driving
  • Need to nap to get through the day
  • Fall asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
  • Feel the need to sleep late on weekends
  • Fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed

There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function optimally. Just because you are able to operate on seven hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed.

If you have made a habit of skimping on sleep, you may not even remember what it feels like to be wide-awake, fully alert, and firing on all cylinders.

Contrary to what some may believe, sleep is not a time when your body and brain shut off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing a wide variety of biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead.

Average Sleep Needs by Age

Newborn to 2 months old 12 – 18 hrs
3 months to 1 year old 14 – 15 hrs
1 to 3 years old 12 – 14 hrs
3 to 5 years old 11 – 13 hrs
5 to 12 years old 10 – 11 hrs
12 to 18 years old 8.5 – 10 hrs
Adults (18+) 7.5 – 9 hrs

Sleep unfolds in a series of recurring sleep stages that are very different from one another in terms of what is happening beneath the surface. From deep sleep to dreaming sleep, they are all vital for your body and mind. Each stage of sleep plays a different part in preparing you for the day ahead.

This is why if you are sensitive to waking up in the middle of the night, it is probably in the early morning hours, not immediately after going to bed.

While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best.

If you are getting less than eight hours of sleep each night, chances are you’re sleep deprived. What’s more, you probably have no idea just how much the lack of sleep is affecting you.

The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you are logging enough hours in bed, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime.

By understanding your nightly sleep needs and what you can do to bounce back from chronic sleep loss, you can finally get on a healthy sleep schedule.

Benefits of Sleep

Psychologists and other scientists who study the causes of sleep disorders have shown that such problems can directly or indirectly be tied to abnormalities in the following systems:

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Metabolic functions
  • Immune system

Furthermore, unhealthy conditions, disorders and diseases can also cause sleep problems, including:

  • Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
  • Hypertension and elevated cardiovascular risks (MI, stroke)
  • Emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Obesity; metabolic syndrome and diabetes
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

Here are some things you may not know about sleep:

1. Sleep improves memory

Sleep helps memory and learning

Sleep helps memory and learning

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep you can strengthen memories or “practice” skills learnt while you were awake. Whether physical or mental — sleep can help you internalise knowledge even better.

Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.

A lack of sleep is likely to cause problems with attention and learning, leading to a functional impairment particularly in the developing minds of children and also in adults who often sacrifice sleep to meet a deadline.

2. Sleep lengthens your life span and improves your quality of life

Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

The production of melatonin can also be thrown off when you are deprived of sunlight during the day or exposed to too much artificial light at night — especially the light from electronic devices, including TVs, computers, tables, and mobile phones.

3. Sleep can curb inflammation

Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleep—six or fewer hours a night—have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more.

A 2010 study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night. People who have sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of the sleep disorders.

You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day, but losing even one hour of sleep can compromise your cardiovascular health, energy balance, and ability to fight infections.

4. Sleep can spur creativity


Sleep can spur creativity

In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganise and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.

Research indicates that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.

5. Sleep can regulate your body weight

Ever noticed how when you’re short on sleep you crave sugary foods that give you a quick energy boost? Sleep deprivation has a direct link to overeating and weight gain.

Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full.

However, when don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.

6. Sleep lowers stress

When it comes to our health stress and sleep are nearly one and the same — and both can affect cardiovascular health.

Sleep can reduce levels of stress, and with that people can have better control of their blood pressure. It is believed that sleep has an effect on cholesterol levels, which plays a significant role in heart disease.

7. Sleep sharpens concentration

Lack of sleep can be just as dangerous as drinking before getting behind the wheel

Lack of sleep can be just as dangerous as drinking before getting behind the wheel

Being tired when driving accounts for a significant percentage of fatal vehicular accidents.

Sleeplessness affects reaction time and decision making. Insufficient sleep for just one night can be as detrimental to your driving ability as having an alcoholic drink.

Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.

8. Sleep can alleviate depression

Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.

A lack of sleep can contribute to depression, whereas a good night’s sleep can really help a moody person to gain more emotional stability.

Get back on track with your sleep cycle

While you can’t pay off a lifetime of sleep debt in a night or even a weekend, with a little effort and planning, you can get back on track.

  • Aim for at least seven and a half hours of sleep every night.
    Make sure you don’t fall farther in debt by blocking off enough time for sleep each night. Consistency is the key.
  • Settle short-term sleep debt with an extra hour or two per night.
    If you lost 10 hours of sleep, pay the debt back in nightly one or two-hour installments.
  • Keep a sleep diary.
    Record when you go to bed, when you get up, your total hours of sleep, and how you feel during the day. As you keep track of your sleep, you’ll discover your natural patterns and get to know your sleep needs.
  • Take a sleep vacation to pay off a long-term sleep debt.
    Pick a two-week period when you have a flexible schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you continue to keep the same bedtime and wake up naturally, you’ll eventually dig your way out of debt and arrive at the sleep schedule that’s ideal for you.
  • Make sleep a priority.
    Just as you schedule time for work and other commitments, you should schedule enough time for sleep. Instead of cutting back on sleep in order to tackle the rest of your daily tasks, put sleep at the top of your to-do list.
Adapted for WellnessConnect from Sources: